I’m sure I could do it. I’d vomit several times from fear first and then weep at the extreme probability of imminent death, but eventually I’d pull it together and sit down at the controls.
Then I’d spend the next 10 minutes trying to figure out how to work the radio.
But I’d get it done. If a yutz like Ted Striker could do it, a yutz like me can too.
A guy named Darren Harrison got it done for real yesterday off the coast of Florida. He was onboard a single-engine Cessna that had departed from the Bahamas when the pilot began to have a medical emergency that left him incoherent. Unlike Ted Striker, Harrison had no flying experience. He didn’t know his position either, only that the coast was in front of him. He got on the horn with air-traffic control in hopes that they could talk him through it.
But there was another problem. The air-traffic controller, Robert Morgan, had never flown the type of Cessna that Harrison was aboard. He had no idea what the cockpit looked like so he couldn’t give Harrison physical directions about which instruments were which. They were both flying blind, essentially.
So Morgan did what any right-thinking person would do when faced with a life-and-death situation in 2022. He googled it.
“I knew the plane was flying like any other plane, I just knew I had to keep him calm, point him to the runway and tell him how to reduce the power so he could descend to land,” Mr. Morgan said.
Mr. Morgan, an experienced air-traffic controller and flight instructor, told WPBF that he had never flown a Cessna 208 aircraft before. Instead, he relied on cockpit images he found online.
Morgan directed Harrison to steer the plane towards Palm Beach International Airport, at which point the airport’s air-traffic control took over. Given the high likelihood of a fiery crash, one might have thought they would send him to try to land in an open field somewhere instead.
Nope. Straight into the heart of Palm Beach, where thousands of people were doubtless milling about inside the terminal waiting for their flights, unaware of the approaching danger. Many lives, not just Harrison’s and the pilot’s, were potentially on the line now.
But the sonofabitch nailed it.
🛫 NEW VIDEO: Watch the intense moments as a passenger lands a plane after the pilot was “incoherent.” Hear how the air traffic controller describes what it was like to talk him through it: https://t.co/W5I7NneRZM pic.twitter.com/GuR0Ws0ntL
— WPBF 25 News (@WPBF25News) May 11, 2022
Afterward he and Morgan met and bro-hugged, casual as can be:
NEW: CNN identifies Darren Harrison (right) as the passenger who landed a Cessna Caravan at PBI when his pilot became incapacitated.
Air traffic controller & flight instructor Robert Morgan (left) helped guide Harrison “one step at a time” using a photo of the Caravan cockpit. pic.twitter.com/9JhUhViezK
— Pete Muntean (@petemuntean) May 11, 2022
Well, not totally casual. “I felt like I was going to cry then, because I had so much adrenaline built up,” Morgan said of Harrison’s landing. “I was really happy that it worked out and that nobody got hurt.”
Just to raise the dramatic stakes a little further, it turns out that Harrison’s wife is pregnant. His child gets to grow up with a dad after all.
There’s one footnote. Although Harrison had never flown before, he “had been around aviation and seen other pilots fly,” per CNN. That may help explain — a little — why in the audio you’re about to hear the guy sounds preternaturally calm. No doubt he was petrified, but I wonder if he had a rudimentary enough understanding of how basic instruments like the radio work that he wasn’t as completely lost as you or I might be. Just being able to make contact with air-traffic control would have been a huge relief to someone in his position. Maybe he knew how to do that much at least.